New Legislation Seeks To End Federal Ban On Marijuana

Image courtesy of Ryan Dearth

The same week that the White House likened legalized recreational marijuana to the opioid epidemic, and let it be known that the Justice Department will likely begin cracking down on non-medical pot, a Republican Congressman from Virginia introduced a law that, if passed, would put an end to the federal criminalization of marijuana.

The Ending Federal Prohibition Of Marijuana Act [PDF] was introduced late last week by Rep. Tom Garrett, along with bipartisan support from Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and his fellow Virginia Republican Rep. Scott Taylor. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, has also signed on as a cosponsor.

The bill — a version of which was first introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) in 2015 — would amend the Controlled Substances Act to leave it up to each state to decide if marijuana — recreational or medical — is illegal there.

About half of the states now have, or are in the process of legalizing, medical pot. Voters in a growing number of states have recently chosen to legalize recreational marijuana. The bill would not allow for transport of pot between states if one of those states outlaws the drug.

“Statistics indicate that minor narcotics crimes disproportionately hurt areas of lower socio-economic status and what I find most troubling is that we continue to keep laws on the books that we do not enforce,” said Garrett in a statement. “Virginia is more than capable of handling its own marijuana policy, as are states such as Colorado or California.”

Marijuana is not only illegal on the federal level, it’s a Schedule 1 controlled substance, putting it in the same category with heroin and other drugs that the government says have no legitimate uses. In 2016, the Drug Enforcement Administration denied a petition from the governors of Rhode Island and Washington, seeking to have marijuana removed from the Schedule 1 list.

Making things more confusing, federal law currently prohibits the Justice Department from using any of its funds to prosecute medical marijuana cases in states where pot has been legalized for therapeutic use.

At the same time, residents in those states may not be able to purchase firearms solely for having a medical marijuana card, regardless of whether they’ve ever used that card to purchase pot.

The patchwork of state laws on marijuana — coupled with the federal ban — has made it virtually impossible to operate a true multi-state pot business. The federal ban has also resulted in many federally insured banks refusing to open accounts for marijuana-related companies, including those that aren’t actively involved in growing or selling weed.

Following last week’s comments by White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, a number of pro-marijuana organizations pointed out the apparent hypocrisy of an administration claiming it wants to stop the flow of drugs from Mexico while simultaneously shutting down businesses that are legal — at least at the state level — whose very existence would arguably reduce the demand for product from cartel-backed operations outside the U.S.

Garrett’s bill, which — like most pieces of legislation — currently stands little chance of being enacted, has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. It’s now up to the Committee, chaired by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (VA), to decide whether or not to consider the legislation and pass it on for a full floor vote.

[h/t Washington Post]